Controversial trial of technology that could be used to thin clouds rejected in California

The Alameda, California, city council voted early Wednesday to deny scientists permission to continue a controversial test of technology that could one day be used to thin clouds.

The project, among the first of its kind, involved spraying salt water on the deck of an old aircraft carrier docked at a city pier. The scientists behind the project planned to test devices that could create and measure aerosol plumes.

In the long term, the research could have been a step toward a type of climate intervention known as marine cloud brightening. The concept, still mostly theoretical, involves making clouds more reflective of sunlight, which would reflect more heat back into space and help mitigate global warming.

No such effort is yet underway; instead, scientists design experiments to study how the technology might work. The Alameda lawsuit could have been part of those efforts, but the city council voted unanimously against it.

The episode placed Alameda officials at the center of a public debate that extends far beyond the city, over the promises and perils of geoengineering and whether testing of this type of technology should be pursued. The council’s decision follows similar actions in other areas, including a State-level geoengineering ban implemented in Tennessee and the abandonment of a geoengineering project that Harvard scientists sought to deploy in Sweden.

However, the Council’s vote is not a rejection of the science or the idea of ​​geoengineering, but rather of the researchers’ approach. Members complained that project leaders had not been transparent, had not provided sufficient review by medical professionals on its safety and had misstepped by starting with spraying salt water, then asking permission afterwards.

The University of Washington scientists behind the trial had already begun their work – and had not widely publicized the details in advance – when Alameda city leaders announced it. learned more from articles in the New York Times and other media outlets. Researchers sprayed salt water along the deck of the USS Hornet, which is now used as a museum on the Alameda waterfront. Their plan called for spraying three times a day, four days a week for 20 weeks.

But after city leaders learned of the project, they quickly shut it down to investigate its safety and hold a vote on its fate.

The idea of ​​cloud brightening is to increase the number of water droplets in the clouds to increase their reflection. Sending more sunlight into space in this way could reduce Earth’s overall warming, but would not help solve other climate problems like ocean acidification.

Geoengineering research remains a tough sell despite the worsening effects of climate change, and the events in Alameda demonstrate the rigid skepticism scientists face even toward the most basic experiments.

A large part of the deliberations of the members of the municipal council avoided the completion of the project…

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